The lesson out of the drought this year is that water storage is critical for the prosperity of New Zealand pastoral farms or fruit and vegetable businesses, says Horticulture NZ chief executive Mike Chapman.
He says since 2001 NZ has lost 6000ha of vegetable growing land.
“That means there are fewer places from which to feed New Zealand,” Chapman told Rural News. “A really important statistic on vegetables is that only 4% are exported; most of it is for domestic supply.
“It is simple maths: if you don’t have a lot of vegetables they go up in price and then it comes to a point where you might have to supplement them with imports.”
Auckland’s urban sprawl into the fertile Pukekohe region is a major concern, he says.
Potatoes NZ chief executive Chris Claridge agrees, saying the area has special soils which have been feeding Auckland for at least 100 years. If you grow houses, you can’t grow food, he adds.
Chapman says Pukekohe’s stock of 20,000 houses could increase to 50,000.
“Pukekohe in spring is one of the main growing areas for feeding NZ -- spring potatoes, carrots, cauliflowers, lettuce, etc,” he explains.
“If we lose more and more land in Pukekohe and more and more land where we are growing vegetables, the opportunity for NZ to feed itself gets less and less.
“And adverse weather may become the norm so that is the real problem.”
Chapman says horticulture’s big conversation with the Government – outlined in its election manifesto – was on the need for a food security policy with a nationwide vision for how we feed ourselves, “because we don’t want to and shouldn’t rely on imports”.
A bad season for vegetable growers like the present one, and similarly a couple of years ago, shows we need to take food security seriously, Chapman says.
“We’ve been talking, talking and talking. I think we are getting a bit of traction now.”
Chapman says there’s a misconception that we export most of our horticulture produce.
“Yes we export a lot of our fruit produce but we don’t export much of the vegetable produce,” Chapman says.
“Our vegetable produce is focused on our market – New Zealand. There are some good export opportunities where they do fantastic stuff. But we’ve got to focus on how we feed ourselves... That’s what the incoming government should be worried about.”
Claridge told Rural News it is important for Kiwis to understand that vegetable production is impacted by weather events and that climate change is real.
“This weather may not directly be the result of climate change, but it indicates that we must be sensible about food security issues.
“We always assume we can feed ourselves,” he says. “But if we continue to chew up land for urbanisation, locking up land so we can’t grow crops on it to eat, it makes it very difficult to feed the country.”
Claridge says there is a cost to Auckland sprawling into Pukekohe because the soils there are very valuable; in fact they are “unique – what you call suppressive soils; they suppress soil-borne diseases”.
“They are very rich horticultural soils and they have effectively been feeding Auckland for over 100 years.”